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Russian tanks deploy near Afghan border before drills in Central Asia

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russian tanks deployed near the Afghan-Tajik border on Tuesday ahead of military exercises next month and Moscow announced more drills in neighbouring Uzbekistan as regional tensions over the Taliban’s territorial gains in Afghanistan remained high.

Taliban fighters have made major advances as U.S. forces pull out after 20 years of war, a security headache for Moscow which fears refugees may be pushed into its Central Asian backyard and its southern defensive flank destabilised.

Tank crews from Russia’s military base in Tajikistan, its largest on foreign soil, completed a 200 km (124-mile) journey to a military range near the Afghan border, the TASS news agency cited Russia’s Central Military District as saying in a statement on Tuesday.

During the deployment, the T-72 tank crews practised protecting convoys and repelling enemy fire, TASS reported.

“Upon arrival at the range, the crews started setting up their positions and providing cover for combat vehicles,” the statement said.

The joint drills, which involve Russian, Tajik and Uzbek forces, are due to take place 20 km from the Afghan border in Tajikistan from Aug. 5-10, Russia’s armed forces said on Monday.

On Tuesday, Russia said joint exercises with Uzbek troops in southern Uzbekistan, also near the Afghan border, would run from July 30 to Aug. 10, involving around 1,500 troops and 200 vehicles, including aircraft.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Alexander Marrow;Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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